The view from this planet's tallest free-standing tower is out of this world--Tokyo Skytree--for those lucky enough to score a ticket to the top.
It's taken nearly six years, with nary a delay from the Great East Japan Earthquake of last year, to bring Tokyo's latest symbol to life. On May 22, the wait was over.
More than 30 million people are expected to visit Skytree, mostly as part of package tours, in its first fiscal year. To prevent overcrowding, draws to select lucky visitors to enter the tower during its first 50 days of operation were held.
In Skytree, along with a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding area from two observation decks, there are restaurants and souvenir shops inside.
Others of us not lucky enough to score tickets to the opening can find solace at Tokyo Solamachi, the sprawling complex at the base of Skytree.
Previewed to the press on May 18, Solamachi packs enough content to distract from the 634-meter tower next door--if it didn't fill the windows. It offers sweets shops and high-end, high-perched restaurants, fashion outlets and even a "celeb cafe."
Call it a microcosm of Tokyo. Yet Solamachi, like Skytree, feels a world away from the surrounding neighborhood. Sumida Ward, set across the river from the well-known Asakusa area, has long been the city's workshop, filled with studios and factories keeping or reinventing traditional skills.
Thankfully Tobu Railways, the main developer and crowd conveyor to the new hotspot, have woven some of that DNA into Solamachi. With 52,000 square meters of commercial space, it brings together 312 shops (over half of which offer foods and sweets). Eighty-nine of those are unique to Solamachi, with Skytree specific items on display.
Visitors can spend hours searching out all things tower-themed. Among them are candles and baguettes (easy enough), but also a banana tart: the bananas come from the Philippines but have been grown at an altitude of 634 meters (2,080 feet) to match the height of Skytree.
Along with an aquarium, planetarium, stage and multimedia "Tree of Dreams" exhibition on the tower construction, there's Sumida Ward's own "Machidokoro" showcase. In 2010 the ward put out a call for the products its workshops manufacture, awarding them the Sumida Modern seal of approval. About two dozen items are on display on the quiet fifth floor of the complex.
The aim isn't primarily to sell the items, explains a ward representative, but to invite visitors to the nearby workshops that make them. The ward's own tourism center, which offers information in English, is just a few steps away and ready to arrange visits.
The Solamachi complex spans eight floors. Its best restaurants, however, are 150 meters above ground on the 30th and 31st floors. They offer some of the best views of the tower and Tokyo. What's better is that it might actually be possible to get inside them. Thanks to an odd design decision, only two elevators serve the floors and are expected to be filled constantly.
The bad news, explains one restaurant operator, is that accepting reservations is well-nigh impossible. That's actually good news for visitors: To see the top of Tokyo, it's first come, first served.
* * *
This article was originally posted on May 22, the opening day of Tokyo Skytree.
- « Prev
- Next »